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Choosing A Fox Body Radiator

Written By: Connor MC

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It is extremely important to keep your Mustang running cool no matter if it is a daily driven street car, a strip-only monster or a weekend track warrior. AmericanMuscle has the Fox Body products you need to keep your Mustang running cool, even through the dead of summer.

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There is a limit to how cool you want your engine. The engine can’t be too cool, but nor do you want it to be too hot… There needs to be a happy medium between the two. How do we accomplish this, you may ask. Read on…

Essentials to Cooling Down a Fox Body Mustang

  • Address each cooling component one-by-one determining which part of the system most needs an upgrade
  • Stock Radiator—Bent and broken fins and calcium build-up develop of overtime and lays waste to your stock radiator
  • Stick with name brand radiators—AFCO or Mishimoto—to avoid low-quality parts that can leak soon after being installed
  • If you want to keep your radiator stock quality, consider an OEM replacement radiator
  • For modified or future modifications, a performance radiator will cool down hotter modified engines

You keep cool in the hot months by blasting the AC or running through the sprinkler but your Mustang stays cool by properly circulating the coolant through the radiator. At the end of the day, skimping on the radiator (or any cooling related part) is not something you want to do and is something that goes for your oil temperatures as well. The ‘cool’ factor has to be as close to perfect as possible. Otherwise you’re wasting gas or risking engine damage!

Cooling a Fox Body Mustang's engine is a tricky business. On one hand, you need the engine to keep cool, calm and collected so that you don’t warp a cylinder head (or scorch a piston… or many other bad things resulting from overheating). On the other hand, the engine can’t stay too cool. It does have to warm up to an optimum operating temperature, otherwise the ECU will keep dumping in extra fuel. 

The stock cooling system has probably been doing a good job for a very long time. However, over time, some inefficiencies are bound to develop and you may notice the temperature gauge climb a little higher than it used to. The fix is to address each cooling component one by one, and determine whether or not it needs an upgrade.

There are 4 main components to the cooling system:

We’ll start by discussing the largest of the group, the radiator.

Old and dirty foxbody mustang radiator
Old and rusty foxbody mustang radiator
As you can see, 25 years of use (and squashing bugs!) has left a mark!


The Stock Fox Body Radiator

The stock radiator is a 2-row copper design housed in a louvered-fin core. Stock dimensions are 24.5” W x 17.8” H x 1.14” D, with a capacity of 14.1 quarts. Fins per inch ranged from a minimum of 9 to a maximum of 14, depending on the year and trim. Again, it does a good job of keeping a stock engine cool, but over the years, wear and tear will take its toll. Bent and broken fins and calcium build-up will both lay waste to a stock radiator.

Calcium Buildup on a Fox Body Radiator
Calcium Buildup Inside a Stock Radiator

Choosing a New Radiator For Your Mustang

The concept of choosing a new radiator isn’t very complicated. However, in reality, it isn’t so simple. Luckily, the purpose of this guide is to help demystify this process!

There are tons of different radiators to choose from, and there is a huge price range as well. One piece of advice, don’t pick a radiator just because it is the cheapest one! Picking a radiator is a bit of an art. You have to weed out the bad ones from the good ones, because trust me, there are bad ones! A bad one will be leaking the moment you install it. For this reason, I advise you to stick with a name brand radiator - in particular, AFCO or Mishimoto. Both companies are hugely known and respected names in the radiator world. They make quality pieces, in a variety of options (standard, heavy duty, performance etc. We’ll get to that later) and are top-notch manufacturers.

AFCO Mustang Fox Body Radiator
AFCO Replacement Radiator

OEM vs Performance Mustang Radiators

If your Fox Body is still stock and you intend to keep it that way for the foreseeable future, then an OEM replacement radiator will do the trick. If the stock radiator was able to do it up until now, a replacement OEM unit ought to be able to continue the job, no problem. If you have done some modifications or plan to later down the road, go with a performance radiator. It is generally accepted that with aftermarket modifications that the 5.0L engine will run hotter.

Aftermarket performance radiators for Foxbody Mustangs are usually made of aluminum, which dispels heat much better than the stock construction. Furthermore, they usually are bigger and beefier, with larger cores providing more surface area to draw in more air, thus better controlling temperatures. The stock piece is a 2 core design whereas quality aluminum performance radiator usually has a minimum of 3 rows, again better to dispel heat throughout coolant circulation.

One other thing to take into account when purchasing a radiator is transmission type. A radiator intended for a manual transmission usually differs slightly from that intended for an automatic car because of the extra transmission cooler needed for the automatic transmission. Some radiators are universal, but not all, so just keep that in mind.

Now, one drawback to aluminum is that it can be somewhat brittle. Road vibration and bumps can stress the radiator and cause it to crack and then leak. This is why it is very important to purchase a quality radiator with quality welds. A poorly made radiator will let you know sooner rather than later, sometimes leaking right out of the factory!

Product image of an OEM foxbody Mustang Radiator
Factory Foxbody Radiator
Replacement Mishimoto Foxbody Mustang Radiator
Mishimoto Replacement Radiator


Mustang Radiator Accessories

Liquid Chill coolant additive for Foxbody Mustang

When upgrading the radiator, there are a few other related (and cheap, luckily enough!) parts you are going to want to consider. Be sure to check that the upper and lower radiator hoses are in good shape and are not cracked or leaking. Give them a good visual inspection and squeeze. To be sure, shine a flashlight and look down the inside. A little known secret when it comes to hoses and tubes is that most of them rot from the inside! What may look like a perfectly good hose on the outside may have severe cracks on the inside; waiting for the moment you are farthest from home before rupturing (Murphy’s Law). Another easy replacement is the radiator cap. Believe it or not, if it is not sealing and pressurizing properly, that could be the cooling problem you’ve been chasing for weeks.

There are also coolant additives that increase flow and reduce tension between the coolant and your cooling system that will lower engine temperatures. If you’ve replaced your radiator already but are still concerned about high engine temperatures, a coolant additive could be the solution you’re looking for.